Free software I couldn't be without
A few of my favourite applications have recently hit new milestone releases, and it has led me to think about what programs I use to do all the things I do. Turns out I use a lot of programs, and most are free (legally). Here’s my list of most liked free applications:
Miro 1.0 has finally been released. Miro is the re-named Democracy Player which I’ve been raving about for nearly a year, a couple of times on my website. As a quick re-cap (or introduction for those that haven’t read about it before), it is a video library manager - a lot like iTunes, but specifically for video. And there are literally thousands of video channels to discover through the channel guide, or you can subscribe to any vodcast on the internet. Miro downloads new episodes automatically and supports HD content out of the box. The software rocks. It’s Open Source, it’s cross platform.
I’ve recently re-discovered SmartFTP. Back in the day I didn’t like it much and switched to Filezilla (SmartFTP wasn’t free if memory serves, now it is). I’d been having some issues with Filezilla 3.0 causing my PC to freeze so I took a look at SmartFTP again. I’m glad I did because it’s brilliant. It has a tabbed interface so you can have multiple servers and multiple local locations open at once, and a feature that I loved about CuteFTP but wasn’t willing to pay for - the ability to ‘lock’ navigation, so that when you navigate the directories on your local system the remote system navigates to the same place. When you FTP a lot, that is a huge time-saver. There’s also a sync option for keeping folders synchronous between your local machine and the FTP server. Yes, this is me advising a closed-source program over an Open Source alternative (Filezilla)! It’s Windows only. As a quick note - Filezilla is easier than SmartFTP to use and set up if you are a casual user, but SmartFTP has the features you need if you use FTP a lot.
Aptana Studio formerly Aptana IDE
I got sick of WinRAR’s nagging to buy it so downloaded the Open Source 7zip instead (Windows only). Works great, no nagging. Handles zip, RAR, TAR, and all the other likely compression formats.
I’ve never liked MSN or Windows Messenger, the advertisements annoy me for a start. I’m very very rarely on an IM client anyway, but when I am I use Pidgin, which is the re-named GAIM, an Open Source IM client that can run on multiple networks (MSN, AIM, etc). It is also cross platform.
For quickly playing videos I’ve found nothing to beat VLC - the open source player that will play almost any file format and opens really fast. It’s Open Source too.
For the odd bit of video editing and/or re-coding that I do I use VirtualDub - it’s been around for years, but it’s still being updated by its author. It’s fast with re-coding and opening files, simple to use, and surprisingly powerful.
On the rare occasion I need to edit sound files I use Audacity, again it’s been around for a long time, but it is a brilliant bit of software. Open Source.
For office applications I use Open Office. If you’re familiar with Microsoft Office and are not a power user with a penchant for macros you will find this more than good enough. It opens Microsoft Office documents, though the display of them can be slightly off if the document contained a lot of fancy stuff, but that’s less and less of a problem as updates keep being applied. Open Source, cross platform.
Free Firewall software for Vista seems nearly non existent, but when running Windows XP I use the fantastic (and very well renowned) Comodo Firewall. Doesn’t nag too much, is safe as houses. Not open source, but it is free. I’m still waiting for version 3 (which will support Vista). Comodo Firewall is Windows only.
Anti virus comes via the ubiquitous AVG Free, which does work well. Again, Windows only, but only Windows needs anti-virus really.
Spyware is caught and destroyed with Windows Defender (which comes with Vista, not that it’s ever had any spyware on the system thanks to Comodo, AVG, and Firefox…) but if I had to use something else it’d be Spybot Search and Destroy. Free, Windows only.
Browsing, of course, Firefox. Open Source, cross platform, brilliant in every way.
Email, of course, Thunderbird. Open Source, cross platform, brilliant in every way.
Torrenting I don’t do, but Azureus is the defacto standard client. Open Source, cross platform. You may like to try uTorrent if you prefer a more user-friendly and less power-user type experience, or if you like to leave your PC running your Torrent client and would like to check up on it via the web while you are out…
The only thing missing off my list is an Open Source equivalent for iTunes that runs on Windows (Linux gets the far superior amaroK and/or Banshee, or the ‘works well’ Rhythmbox). I keep hoping one day Songbird will make it to 1.0, but it’s been in pre-release development for at least a year and a half now. It’s only hit 0.3, and it frankly sucks at the moment. Great concept, terrible execution. A shame because I hate iTunes, yet have to use it all the time (iTunes code is designed by malicious or incompetent monkies. It’s a huge application, updated constantly, each update requires you download the entire application again and Quicktime too. And then it installs shortcuts all over the place again, and forces you to reboot the PC before it finishes up. It’s a bitch to migrate your library. The UI mac-ification means that the close, minimise, and maximise buttons are all offset from where they should be - which is annoying when you are trying to rapidly minimize a bunch of windows and get stuck on iTunes), it’s a system hog, and it auto-boots the iTunes update software as a service that loads when Windows does (to hog yet more resources)). I do not like iTunes.